This is a winemaker who cares. The importer, who has met with Winemaker Lisa Gilbee on several occasions, said that when asked why she went biodynamic in her vineyards, Lisa said: "because my kids play in those vineyards!" The bottom line, as you can tell from that statement, is that this wine meets the highest standards of quality. And it shows in the glass, on the nose, on the palate and through to a long finish. We also offer Lisa's blend of Negroamaro and Primitivo @MetroWines. This is what wine should taste like! And that's just a fact.
From Jay Murray, Piedmont Wine Imports:
Who: Lisa Gilbee
Where: Manduria, Puglia
What grapes: Primitivo, Negroamaro, Fiano, small amounts of Petite Verdot, Cabernet, Malbec
Key fact: This biodynamic estate is farming very old bush vine Primitivo in an effort to preserve and grow interest in a disappearing form of local agriculture.
Lisa Gilbee has lived in Manduria for 12 years. She is Australian, married to an Italian. They have two young kids. She travels around the world making wine for other people, and also makes wine for a large Puglian winery. But Manduria is home, close to the seas, where they can make wine the way she wants.
Their logo is a picture of an owl statue made from local sandstone. They chose it because the owl observes, watches. It’s how Gilbee wants to farm. “We started by developing natural grasses in the vineyard, then we took out all the pesticides, and eventually got to just using copper and sulfur. Now we have moved to biodynamics.” Their methodology is slow, deliberate progress toward a lofty goal.
Traditionally in Manduria, wines were made really manually: foot stomping of grapes before fermentation, back-breaking pruning of low-trained bush vines, virtually no mechanization in most fields even until World War II. Poor sharecroppers farmed small parcels and could not afford the machinery, the feudal system funneled too much of their harvest into the pockets of local landed aristocracy. Then, after World War II these old techniques of by-hand wine making virtually disappeared. In the 20th century production shifted almost entirely to the Cantina Sociale: wine made with BIG equipment. Bulk wine shipped to pump up the alcohol by volume of thin northern Italian reds, and then headed to supermarket chains at bottom shelf prices. Today 90% of the area’s production goes to the Cantina Sociale.
“I’d rather we focus on being a small producer turning our own vineyard into wine,” Gilbee said.
Morella has non-nursery, antique clones in its 10 ha of bush vines. There’s lots of genetic diversity in Gilbee’s monopole because the parcel was planted over time by a variety of farmers. Bush vines like Lisa’s may yield 2 – 2 ½ tons per hectare, trellised conventional vines can produce three times that amount. So slowly the old bush vines are abandoned or removed and replaced with modern clones, in fields designed to work by machine. The fields become easier to work, bulk volume increases and maybe income increases, but the connection to a traditional type of Puglian viticulture disappears.
Lisa clearly likes it here. While she laments the lack of investment in truly studying and understanding Primitivo in the way, say, Barbera is analyzed in the north, she wants to stay, to protect these old vines. They have an indomitable natural resource in Puglia. The region still makes more wine than all of Australia, and many fields of incredible century-old bush vines (and centuries old olive trees) still stand as mute guardians of the region’s real wealth and value.
Morella’s wines are bottled without pumping and without filtration. They use a cement egg for some of the wines. The vessel keeps the lees constantly in movement, and is a hallmark gadget among biodynamic enthusiasts.
Mezzanotte rosso is a mainly Primitivo blend. Small bits of Negroamaro, Malbec, Cabernet and Petite Verdot are co-fermented with the Primitivo. The wine has nice bones to it and merited several exclamatory emoticons in the margins of my tasting book. Malbec has been grown in Puglia for 100 years according to Gilbee. It was replanted post-Phylloxera because of interest from the Bordeaux wine market.
The estate’s Primitivo/Negroamaro blend was my personal favorite red on the day of my visit. These are the two main grapes of the Salento. Primitivo ripens at the end of August, while Negroamaro does not ripen until the end of September or early October. This wine is grown in terre rosse clay-rich soils, and came after a drought year.
Without a doubt we’ll one day bring Morella’s 80-year-old vine Primitivo to the States. It was lovely, with a shade more blue fruit in comparison to the Primitivo/Negroamaro blend. Full and round. Ditto for the Primitivo La Signora from a different clone that Gilbee also makes. I found the latter wine more aromatically interesting, with a hint of sweet raisiny fruit above all the brawny ripeness.
Of course all these wines taste amazing at lunch in the family’s home, sharing pasta and sauce made with spicy local peppers with Lisa’s husband and her kids, Matilda and Anton. The school-age duo eye me with suspicion, but I think they warmed up a little to the strange American dressed in too-warm clothes by the end of my stay. It was raining, and leaving the happy family to trek north was unappealing. Now that we see the Morella wines also taste great in the dining rooms of our North Carolina homes, I can begin to plan a repeat visit. Primitivo is so essentially Italian-American, great with the way we eat, our bold spectrum of sweet-spicy-hot-meaty flavors.
Morella “Mezzanotte” Primitivo Tarantino IGT Biodynamic small farm Primitivo crafted by Lisa Gilbee. This is a blend of bush vine Primitivo with an average age of 40 years. It is located in Manduria about 3km from the Ionian sea. The soils are red sandy clay over limestone. The Primitivo is destemmed directly in small open fermenters. The fements are hand plunged and wine is pressed with the basket press and matured in old oak barrels. The wine is racked 2 or 3 times before bottling without filtration. Mezzanotte has a distinct ripe berry fruit nose with hints of blackberry and cherry and with wild herbs. The mouth is initially ripe fruit followed by a balanced fresh tannin finish.
Organic: Certified Biodynamic
Soil type: Red sandy clay over limestone
Elevation: 5 kl from the Ionian sea
Grapes: Blend of new plantings (2005) and 40 year old bush vine Primitivo
Method of fermentation: Destemmed directly into small open fermenters. Hand plunged in a basket press and matured in old oak barrels. Racked two to three times before bottled without filtering.
Morella “Mezzogiorno” Bianco Salento IGP 100% Fiano. 10-year-old vines, from cuttings brought to Puglia from Campania. Planted in Manduria, in red sandy clay over limestone soil, with a unusually large amount of quartz. Hand-picked into small baskets, then pressed whole-cluster in a vertical basket press. Fermented mostly in large oak barrels. Seven months of lees-stirring prior to a light filtration and bottling.
Soil type: Red sandy clay over limestone with lots of quartz particles
Method of fermentation: Handpicked and chilled overnight. Bunches pressed whole in basket press. Half fermented in large oak barrels and half in stainless steel. Stirred on the lees for seven months and lightly filtered before bottling.
Morella Negroamaro Salento IGT
This wine is a blend of 85% Primitivo and 15% Negroamaro, made from 40-year-old vines. Hand harvested in to small baskets and fermented at 28 degrees Celsius. Aged in Allier oak barrels for 12 months, and then an additional 8 months in bottle before release.